Located at 1216 Annunciation Street, the Fleur de Lis Mansion is unlike any other boutique bed and breakfast in the city.
In fact, if you had walked past 1216 Annunciation only a decade ago, this grand old mansion would seem like a completely different property altogether. The late twentieth century was not kind to this Greek-Revival home, and it is in thanks to its current owners, Jim and Lauren, that this elegant bed and breakfast is effused with such vitality and style today.
The Fleur de Lis Mansion is one of New Orleans’ most prominent bed and breakfasts, and not a single weekend goes by that this luxurious vacation spot isn’t booked solid. With outdoor showers, a 10-person hot tub, and even a party bus for group guests, well, it’s no surprise as to why this bed and breakfast has shot to the top of New Orleans’ best places to stay list in such a short time.
But the walls of the Fleur de Lis Mansion have their own stories to tell—and since the brick walls themselves are mighty thick at thirteen inches deep, it’s no surprise that this property has seen its fair share of happiness, tribulations and everything in between.
. . . And some intriguing paranormal happenings to match.
The history of this plot of land extends back to a period when the beautiful home at 1216 Annunciation did not even exist. As one of the first families of Louisiana, the Saulets had acquired this tract of land from the Jesuits’ plantation in 1763. (And by ‘acquired’ I truly mean ‘seized,’ as the Jesuits were stripped of their land time and again in the eighteenth century).
Thomas Saulet, the patriarch, immediately set about making his new plantation prosperous. His original plot stretched from Calliope Street to Race. However, when Saulet’s neighbor, Delord-Sarpy decided to sell a lot of his land to surveyors, Thomas took note. He watched as Delord-Sarpy’s land sold off at lightening quick speed; watched as the revenue rolled in.
Thomas Saulet decided he, too, wanted to subdivide his land for prospective buyers. In 1810, he hired the well known engineer Barthelemy Lafon to do the deed. Besides a third-of-a-mile radius surrounding his home, Saulet sold everything else off. His new neighborhood earned the title, the Faubourg Saulet.
Whether Saulet would have moved on to other business ventures, we will never know. In 1815, General Andrew Jackson led the Battle of New Orleans against the invading Brits, and Thomas Saulet was one of the men who lost his life in the War of 1812.
It is with good fortune that the land and house remained in the possession of the Saulet family. Only after Thomas' wife, Marie Therese Pery Saulet, died in 1823, did any of their children partition off any more land. They gifted the corner of modern-day Coliseum and Erato Streets to the Catholic Church, and supported the new church that was erected there in 1838.
Just a few years earlier, the Saulet family had commissioned architects to build a pair of Greek-Revival brick houses. 1216 Annunciation Street, now the Fleur de Lis Mansion, is one of those townhouses. (The other was unfortunately demolished in the 1930s).
Thomas Saulet’s granddaughter, Azelie, and her husband, Theodule Verret inherited the Greek-Revival in 1842 when they married. From all accounts, Theodule Verret had worked as a clerk at a bank during his youth. After his marriage, he and Azelie decided to make their permanent home at 1216 Annunciation, on the same land that the Saulets had lived since the eighteenth century.
Ferret was wily, however, and over time his own land holdings grew too. By 1859, he had had acquired 127 acres of land on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. He also became the Justice of the Peace and Parish Treasurer in St. Tammany Parish.
The house at 1216 Annunciation continued in the Verret family until 1900, after Theodule had already passed and when Azelie moved to the North Shore.
Described as a “Magnificent Two-Story Brick Residence” in a 1900 sales advertisement, the beautiful Greek-Revival mansion would unfortunately lose its grandeur by the end of the twentieth century.
For the period between 1900 and 1919, when 1216 Annunciation was purchased by the Hennessy family, the Greek-Revival sat empty on its lot. The owners of the modern Fleur de Lis Mansion were informed by locals that the property was once a brothel.
Though no records or newspaper accounts exist to prove this claim for certain, if 1216 Annunciation was a brothel at some point, it no doubt would have been during this period. Situated so close to the Mississippi River, the former Saulet family home would have been in a prime position for sailors coming from the port. Additionally, it was during the years 1897 to 1917 that the city of New Orleans legalized brothels. Known as Storyville, the regulated red-light district was isolated to a 38-block radius in the French Quarter.
Although all the brothels, or “dens” as they were mainly referred to as, were supposed to exist in the Storyville District, no doubt others existed elsewhere in the city. New Orleans, after all, has always been a den of disease and prostitution.
If 1216 Annunciation was a brothel during those early years in the 1900s, then it would have gone unlisted. No license meant no business. The fact that the address fails to pop up in the newspapers in relation to a busted-brothel could possibly mean one thing:
Whoever ran the bordello did so smartly—by not getting caught.
Those stories, whatever they may, will have to remain locked tight within the walls of the modern Fleur de Lis Mansion with their mysteries remaining untold.
While the Saulet and Verret families had been long-standing in New Orleans’ high society, the Hennessy family was solidly blue collar. James Joseph Hennessy was a boilermaker who belonged to the International Brotherhood of a Boilermakers Union, and his wife, Irene Wilbert, was a school teacher from Iberville, Louisiana.
Though it’s difficult to determine what events led up to the Hennessy family opening the Greek-Revival’s doors to boarders after they purchased the property in 1919, they continued to lease homes in the mansion all the way until the 1950s. They advertised the open rooms in the newspapers, and countless people and families moved in with the Hennessy family over the decades.
The house remained in Hennessy family name until 1985, at the time of the death of James Joseph Hennessy’s son, Wilbert.
For twenty-five years, 1216 Annunciation remained abandoned but not empty.
Many of the homeless in New Orleans had sought refuge in the nineteenth century mansion. They drank, they slept, they lived in the former Saulet family home.
And on one particular night, they almost burned the place down. Seated in the current Red Room, the winter months proved cold enough that the house’s residents yearned desperately for warmth. They lit a fire, which could have consumed the whole building, except that those thirteen-inch brick walls had acted as a fire safety.
Ironically, that’s what the extreme thickness of the walls were intended to do originally.
When Jim, the owner of the Fleur de Lis Mansion, purchased the property in 2010, he did so for only $90,000. His new next-door neighbor had glanced at him, wished Jim luck, and quipped that he would never have invested a single dime into the property.
There was too much work to be done.
Jim didn’t shy away from the project. Instead he hired more than thirty-five construction workers to get to business. For the next six weeks, they proceeded to conserve the building’s historical flair while yet updating it with completely modern amenities.
Today, the bed and breakfast has a “unique flair and ambience” that caters to the modern, jet-savvy traveler. While this bed and breakfast offers some really amazing amenities—outdoor showers, two different hot tubs, a shower in one suite with LED lights that alter the color of the water depending on the temperature—the history of the Fleur de Lis Mansion is visible in every nook or cranny.
Behind a photograph, where the exposed brick still contains threads of horse hair from the nineteenth century style of construction; the charred marking on the door of the Red Room, where the homeless nearly lit the entire place in flames; the stained glass window in the kitchen that once belonged to a historic church; even the original fire wall in the White Room, which would have once been part of the slave quarters.
Jim and Lauren have been careful to maintain the bed and breakfast’s historic charm. Walking with the couple as they showed me property, it’s easy to hear the pride that they share about the Fleur de Lis Mansion.
(And if I had to harbor a guess, I imagine that a part of the reason why this bed and breakfast has done so incredibly well is because its owners truly care. They care about the wellbeing of their guests and are constantly thinking of new inventive ways to make the bed and breakfast that much better, but they also care about the history of the location and about preserving it for the future).
It’s easy to see why every weekend is booked months ahead at 1216 Annunciation; what’s not so easy to detect are the spirits still gracing the halls of this historic residence . . .
While on a tour of the elegant Fleur de Lis Mansion, I asked if there have been any reported hauntings on the property.
Jim and Lauren shared a glance.
The truth is that yes, there are clearly spirits who enjoy pulling pranks on the living; the difficult part is that everything else is somewhat ambiguous.
Jim first experienced something uncommonly active about the location while he and Lauren were living in the Fleur de Lis Suite during and immediately after construction was completed in 2012. While Lauren would sleep peacefully at night, that was not always the case for Jim.
Every so often, the sound of a male’s voice could be heard vibrating through the room’s stereo system just above the bed. Jim could never decipher just what the words were being spoken, but they deep masculine voice itself—oh, that Jim heard quite well.
“Sometimes it could happen twice a month, if not more, and other times only once every year,” Jim told me after I asked about the frequency of the activity.
Who is responsible for this phenomenon? Your guess is as good as mine or Jim’s, but the fact remains that spirits often manipulate electric equipment to absorb energy to manifest. (Have you ever wondered as to why paranormal investigators always haul around electromagnetic equipment, like EVPs? It is for this exact reason: because catching ghosts with just your gaze alone is nearly impossible).
All that can be said is that by manipulating the technology in the room, the spirit clearly seeks to make its presence known. Is it hoping to tell the living about its death? Does it have a message, or does it just want to say a personal thank-you to Jim for preserving the home?
All we can hope is that one day a guest will get lucky while staying in the Fleur de Lis Suite and hear the male spirit say its name.
In the Red Room, which is elegance personified, a playful prankster haunts.
One of the bed and breakfast’s employees, Alma, has been the recipient of this unknown spirit’s jokes on multiple occasions.
While cleaning the room, Alma always places a heart-shaped crystal dish on the back of the toilet. It’s an accessory item, and something she probably wouldn’t think much about except for the fact that it is always moved.
No matter how many times it is put on the back of the toilet, Alma returns to the Red Room’s bathroom time and time again, only to find the crystal dish laying on top of the marble tile on the floor.
This playful ghost has apparently made a name for itself, because it’s notorious among the employees of the Fleur de Lis Mansion.
If you happen to stay in this room during your stay, keep watch: if that dish moves to the floor, it would seem that you’ve got yourself a paranormal visitor.
For those seeking a bed and breakfast experience that will rank among the best you’ve ever had, look no further than the Fleur de Lis Mansion.
Coming down with a group of friends for the weekend? The Fleur de Lis Mansion might be just what you’re looking for, especially as a party bus is provided to bring you wherever you want to go.
And if your personal belongings begin to move about inexplicably during your stay . . . well, while we at Ghost City Tours can’t tell you who is haunting your room, what we can tell you is that the Fleur de Lis Mansion’s ghosts just want to have a good time, too.
After all, the Fleur de Lis Mansion is so elegant that even its ghosts aren’t interesting in leaving anytime soon.